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The EPA moves to regulate industrial chemicals known by the acronym PFAS

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The Environmental Protection Agency wants to regulate chemicals known by an acronym, PFAS - PFAS. The chemicals are common in household items. You may find them in your kitchen, in your bathroom, even on your pants. High levels of them are linked to health problems, including cancer. Here's Celeste Gracia from our member station WUNC.

CELESTE GRACIA, BYLINE: When EPA Administrator Michael Regan was North Carolina's environmental secretary, he quickly had to learn about PFAS. In 2017, researchers found PFAS contamination from chemical company Chemours in the Cape Fear River. Hundreds of thousands of people had been exposed over several years. Regan ordered Chemours to remove its PFAS from the water, but, announcing the EPA's new regulations in North Carolina on Monday, he said he knew the damage was already done.

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MICHAEL REGAN: It could not eliminate the lingering questions people had about whether PFAS was the reason that their loved ones developed cancer. It could not completely ease a mother's angst about the years of bathing her child in contaminated water.

GRACIA: PFAS can be found almost everywhere - water-resistant clothing, nonstick cookware, shampoo, fast food wrappers and many other consumer products. Regan said the EPA's new plan will mandate that PFAS manufacturers disclose how toxic their chemicals are. That data will be used to create new regulations.

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REGAN: We're going to work with the states to ensure that none of these polluters get discharge permits to continue to put this stuff in the air and water. We're going to use the full arm of our enforcement capabilities to hold these polluters and take them to task.

GRACIA: The EPA hopes to set a national limit for PFAS in drinking water by 2023. It will also accelerate the cleanup of contamination and invest more in research about PFAS. Geoff Gisler with the Southern Environmental Law Center calls the plan a big step forward.

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GEOFF GISLER: Doesn't require any new laws, doesn't require any new regulations. It's just using what's on the books to help clean up our waterways.

GRACIA: In a statement, the American Chemistry Council said it supports the plan and agrees with the EPA's decision to regulate different kinds of PFAS differently. But it points out that there's not always alternatives to using PFAS. The EPA's testing mandate for companies will start this fall. For NPR News, I'm Celeste Gracia in Raleigh, N.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.